Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Anybody else frustrated with the state of fonts in Linux today?

It seems there are two distinct issues: the availability of high quality fonts under Free licenses, and the infrastructure for installing, managing and accessing those fonts.

There has been some progress on both fronts. Bitstream’s Vera, and the new Liberation font work (kudos to Red Hat for driving that effort) are steps to provide us with a clean, crisp set of high quality fonts with good hinting that can be installed by default. There is also good work being done by, amongst others, SIL International on a free font license framework, and fonts to go with it. I hope the community can build on these efforts to expand the font coverage to the full Unicode glyphset, preserving their essential character and metrics.

The second problem, the infrastructure and API’s to manage fonts on Linux systems, is more complicated. Here’s a mail to the ubuntu-devel list describing the situation and calling for leadership from the community in helping to address it.

We need a clean, clear way of:

  1. Packaging fonts, and knowing which packages to install to get which fonts.
  2. Cataloguing fonts, and allowing people to manage the fonts that are immediately accessible to them or loaded by default, everywhere.
  3. Making all of this sane in a world where you MIGHT want to read a document in Korean using a French desktop. In other words, where there need to be a lot of fonts available, even if most of those fonts are not used all the time.

Most of the long list of fonts I see in OpenOffice are lost on me, I don’t know when I would choose any of them.

Sounds like a mess, but then again it also sounds like the sort of Gordian knot that the flaming sword of free software can slice straight through, given strong leadership and a forum for the work. Who will step up?


  1. dave says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    The Open Content Library seem to be working on another part of this puzzle, by collecting and cataloging free fonts (and other things) online:

    Their actual font project seems temporarily offline at the moment:

  2. Flavio says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    My personal gripe about fonts on Linux is hinting. People complain about font hinting because of the TTF bytecode patent issues. Sometimes the solution is so simple that people miss it. Just disable altogether font hinting and you’ll get MacOSX style font rendering. Even somewhat better.
    I noticed developers tend to like pixelated and crisp fonts, while graphic artists (and common people) like smooth fonts. Maybe this is the reason why in the Kubuntu login manager you have “User” and “Password” labels nicely smoothed in the raster KDM skin, while the text box uses hinted, pixelated rendering. This looks awful.

  3. mikey says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    I sure hope someone *will* step up!

    Bistream family and liberation are improvements but there’s still a lot to do. You can see the difference if you just start OpenOffice on Linux, iWorks on Mac, and Office 2007 Word next to each other and look at them. With iWorks you have to almost really attempt to be able to produce something where the fonts will look awful. Office 2007 looks a lot like iWorks (“designerish” you might want to call the outcome, they really did go after iWorks with their newest release) and the fonts on the screen look so beautiful that they hurt your eyes. Then you start the OpenOffice, and although you might not have realized before really comparing the three solutions, it’s plain appalling and makes you want to put a brown paper bag on your head if you have to process documents with it at a public place.

    The difference is in fact quite small. Getting for instance the OpenOffice on Ubuntu look the best of the bunch out of the box is doable. “All” you need is new fonts, and some rendering improvements. And perhaps removal of the unnecessary fonts. Normal people need only a handful anyways. It is better to have quality than quantity there. I really hope some people will make it a great crusade/project to fix this, it would remove some barriers of migration from some people! (Like me. I think I am going to actually purchase Office 2007. Just because of how good the fonts look on both screen and on paper.)

  4. Marc Carson says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    >but then again it also sounds like the sort of Gordian knot that the flaming sword of free software leadership can slice straight through

    Too true! I think it’s step #2 that appeals to me most – a catalog really fits the superior package-management approach and could be like a font manager on steroids…assuming we can get together enough free fonts to make it impressive. It may be hard to get font creators to move once the technology is in place though; check out these two threads: (Dan Reynolds has a lot of weight in that community – read his comment)

    Something needs to be done to check the attitude of “free fonts will kill off font designers,” otherwise the free software community will be cursed with a shallow pool of fonts forever.

  5. chemicalscum says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Yes I agree with Flavio one of the first things I do after a new Ubuntu install is to configure the fonts to No Hinting and Grayscale Smoothing. The fonts then look beautiful.

    I downloaded and installed the deb of the Liberation fonts last night. I then played around with them in Abiword. Liberation Serif initially looked identical to Times New Roman but when you zoomed in very small differences are visible. I also compared most of the other serif fonts available in Abiword, Free Serif, Bitrstream Vera, Nimbus Roman No9 L and a couple more. I am not sure of the provenance of Free Serif but it looked closer to Times New Roman than Liberation.

    I saved the comparison to .odt and uploaded it to Google Docs. One strange problem with Liberation was that it was displayed as default Sans Serif rather than default Serif. All the other fonts were displayed correctly.

  6. Matt L. says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    There ought to be a side by side comparison of good open source fonts with Microsoft (or Apple) owned fonts. I was willing to make the jump in software, partly because I saw that OOo equated to MS Office, that Gaim was a suitable equivalent to AIM (et al.), and that GIMP was just as good as Photoshop, and 100% gratis as well as libre. I saw that an alternative was available, and I was happy to do it. Font-switching should be easier, than software switching.

    Can a chart be made comparing some open source, comparing good open source fonts to proprietary fonts, just like its been done numerous times with open source software?

  7. SaabTux says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    You can find lots of fonts for free on this site:

    More than 9000 fonts to choos from.

  8. Ravi Terala says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    State of affairs on Latin fonts is much better. I work with Indic fonts mixed with Latin quite a bit. Currently, there is no way to set the preferred fonts based on the language type. This is very frustrating since it is close to impossible to get the Indic languages rendered in the preferred font along with the preferred one for Latin at the same time. Indic language newspapers mix Latin and Indic languages liberally and it is a hard to get them use the right fonts.

    I hope this issue would be addressed in Ubuntu (and Linux) in near future.

  9. dave says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Can I third the turning off of hinting compelety, I also always use best shapes on Ubuntu, possibly after getting used to it on Mac OS X.

  10. mathew says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Ubuntu font handling is worse than it needs to be because of the use of GNOME. I switched to Kubuntu, and KDE has much better font support, at least as far as previewing and installing fonts.

  11. Marc says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    You want to know what’s a lot more frustrating than fonts?
    Finding a flatbed scanner with Linux support.

    Linux drivers now exist for almost any type of hardware, except scanners.

    Sane has a bunch of reverse-engineered scanner drivers, but they only support ancient models and skip advanced features like flim scanning.

    Even HP who has a great open-source driver project for their printers has NO Linux support for their scanners.

    What needs to be done to get manufacturers to port their scanner drivers to Linux?

  12. Kai Hendry says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    I’ve been looking into fonts for supporting CJK environments in Webconverger.

    My worries start with the Web browser. I mean what does this new Liberation font mean to Firefox and the Web developer?

    My next worry is i18n. This is pain pain pain. Esp. with bitmap fonts in the mix. M$ has distributed their core latin fonts in the past years (msttcorefonts) which has made Web compatibility OK for linux users. However important CJK fonts like simsun have simply had to be copied over from a Windows install. Not cool.

    AFAIK ttf files can only contain 65536 glyphs. So no one font like Liberation font is enough and I think it’s missing quite a few glyphs for CJK. It would be nice if RH said which locales are covered by this font…

    Here is an excellent i18n font resource called Unifonts.

    So I would like to see less fonts, more quality and more concrete i18n coverage.

  13. Demian says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Lol!, you’re naming my crusade here. To summarise, anyone interested can read this: and this:
    I urge graphic designer to liberate font using the OFL. You can also help by subscribing to this list: and get more information at the URLs given by dave at #1.
    It was about time someone with a voice noted the problem. I’m tired of hearing Robert Scoble telling Linux fonts are ugly ( Unluckily we, graphic designers, are the one to blame.
    Free the Type!

    P.S: I know you finally met Martín Varsavsky. It was about time! I always thought you two had lots in common. :-)

  14. Denis says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    @ Kai Hendriks:
    You can run a command with fc-list to tell you what locales are covered by a font.
    $ fc-list “Liberation Sans” lang
    It gives 92 locales for Liberation Sans, 185 for Liberation Serif, and 92 for Liberation Mono. Apparently the future release with have more hinting and more language coverage.
    In comparison DejaVu fonts cover 391, 127 and 245 languages for Sans, Serif and Mono.
    There are a lot of languages missing from the fontconfig languages coverage list so this is not exact and language coverage doesn’t represent demographics, but it gives you an idea of how useful to many a font can be. Unfortunately none of these fonts covers CJK nor Indic.

    By the way, fonts can have more than 65536 glyphs. The issue is with font designer tools. Fortunately Fontforge supports more than that limit.

  15. Chris says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    I also do the “no hinting” thing in GNOME. The thing I don’t get is the difference in fonts between Red Hat/Fedora and Ubuntu/Debian. Fedora fonts look much nicer by default (a bit fatter), even without hinting disabled. I’m guessing it might have something to do with defoma.

    Default fonts–


  16. Johannes says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Speaking of managing fonts, I’d strongly suggest following mikey’s way: Throw away most fonts first. Who really needs Helvetica, Arial and Nimbus Sans all at once? Now there’s another one from Red Hat – not that I would not welcome the idea of more good free fonts, but I simply do not see how the average user can decide which fonts he needs and which not.

    Perhaps having a tool for managing fonts is the right way. But it would have to come up with some way to make suggestions to the user on which font to use for which purpose, like saying “Tahoma? Good for screen in small font sizes. Better not use it for letter printing or real typesetting.”

  17. Matt says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    OK, I’m a programmer, and even I prefer nicely anti-aliased fonts (with the strongest hinting available). These “crisp fonts” you speak of (like Arial and Verdana) look completely awful and are hard to use for prolonged periods of time. Unless you’ve got a monitor with a higher dpi than 120, anti-aliasing is completely necessary to make fonts look anything like they do on paper or other typesetting mediums.

  18. Weeber says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    I agree with Flavio, Would be nice if the ubuntu-devs step up with this issue just like they did with Upstart, just amazing :)

  19. Anders says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    Linux has slowly been improving the fonts, but are still lagging behind. OSX is in it’s own class, and vista has improved a lot for ms.

    Deja vu fonts support more i18n characters, while keeping the same look and style as bitstream.

    The different size of fonts in ms office and open office is extremely annoying when sharing documents between the two. Thanks Red Hat, for working on libaration fonts to solve that problem!

    I suspect Firefox 3.0 will have rendering and i18n improvements by the end of the year.

    Off topic, but my HP c5100 printer/scanner has been working excellent in Ubuntu for about half an year(except full-bleed photo printing).

  20. mpt says: (permalink)
    May 22nd, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Vera and Liberation are good steps, yes, but only tiny ones, compared with the high-quality font collections that people expect to be bundled with an OS. Vera Serif lacks a real italic, making it not a serious choice for designers. And Liberation Serif and Sans have poor design, partly because they’re designed to be Times and Helvetica substitutes rather than to be elegant in themselves. Crisp? Eventually, once the hinted versions are released. But clean? No.

    Fonts are ill-suited to the “release early, release often” development model, because every time you make an improvement that changes the width of a glyph, you are potentially breaking the layout of documents that assumed the widths used in the previous version. (In the worst case, entire words may be lost from the end of a text box.) It’s like having a software library where almost every fix requires breaking API compatibility. For this reason, I think Free fonts are most likely to be successful when companies (or philanthropists ;-) ) commission professional typographers to design them.

  21. anon says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 1:31 am

    Font management and cataloging is a real problem on all platforms. The long list of fonts approach that everyone uses is less than useful when dealing with more than a dozen fonts or so. There’s a real opportunity for open software to push the envelope for the entire industry if someone in the open community can come up with a font management model that works effectively with a few hundred–or a few thousand–fonts.

    For those who think that a few hundred fonds is unreasonable, that’s about the number necessary for acceptable cross-language usability. The number of fonts required for all language situations add up fast even with basic requirements such as plain, italic, bold, bold+italic in both monospaced and proportional sets.

  22. Gez says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 3:12 am

    As I am a designer, font management is very important for me.
    I couldn’t say I’m frustrated with the current state of fonts in Ubuntu, because I could find a very convenient way to manage fonts: Fonty Python.
    I’d really like to have an application like that as part of the default Ubuntu installation.
    Fonty Python is a very simple yet powerful app for font management. It allows you to create font groups, and you can load or “unload” those groups, making the selected fonts available system-wide (it creates links to the actual location of each font in the fonts:// folder).
    FP isn’t perfect though. It need more features (the ability to change the actual location of the font files for better catalog management, font tagging, glyph viewer, support for Type1 and OpenType, etc.), and the GUI can be improved. But I think is a great starting point.
    As far as I know, it’s the only application available in Linux that can be compared in certain extent to the professional font management tools of the propietary world as Linotype Font Explorer, Adobe Type Manager or Extensis Suitecase.

  23. Ben Cherry says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 5:56 am

    This is something I’ve been meaning to suggest (or contribute…) to the OpenOffice/KOffice et. al. people:

    When I’m typing a paper, or preparing a presentation, or placing text in anything at all, I obviously would like to change the font every once in a while. When I do, I also know what _kind_ of font I’m looking for: something plain (serif or not), something handwriting-esque, something blocky, or something just plain random. I imagine most people feel the same way. Yet I am forced to scroll through a long list of fonts looking for what I want, and in some cases having to try each one if there are no previews. The more fonts I install, the harder this gets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a menu-based heirarchy for selecting fonts, the way the GNOME and K Menus work? Where instead of one big list I navigate through families and categories? I could even go for a dichotomous-key approach for font selection.

    It’s time the FOSS world and solve these sorts of usability problems. If there were meta-packages in the ubuntu repositories for these families of fonts, that would add new groupings to a menu, it would be wonderful.

  24. Corey says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 6:06 am

    Yes! As a web designer who works in ubuntu, I must say font support has been the one thing where the open source community has yet to produce something up to snuff. I qould really like to see the ability to install many thousands of fonts without slowing the system down. Probably by only enabling certain ones for certain programs much like Adobe’s font software does. Also needed is support for the new otf font format’s additional features such as alternate characters. There is an interesting article at about just this problem: They bring to light fonty, a python font manager that looks very promising, but isn’t very mature yet. This would perhaps be a good starting point.

  25. Jason Jones says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 6:34 am

    Kudos Mark! I love Linux and I love Ubuntu but one of the things that keeps me dual-booting is simply that every windows desktop I’ve ever had since Windows 2000, out of the box looks clean and crisp with it’s fonts. Not only that, but it has been dead simple to install new fonts. This is another one of those issues, somewhat related to the X Server, that can and should be improved.

  26. Ubuntu | Stephan Hermann: What is the difference between Linux and Windows? says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 6:45 am

    [...] When I came home today, I read Marks article about the font “mess” on Unix (especially GNU/Linux) and I thought: “Hell, this is one area, I never had an eye on”. Why? Just because for me, writing documentations, working on the console etc. there are 2 or 3 fonts enough. Bitstream Sans, Bitstream Sans Serif, and Monospace is all I use. So, why are we “ranting” about features we already have, especially we have more. [...]

  27. Donn Ingle says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 9:07 am

    As a designer and (very) part-time author of Fonty Python (FP), I am very excited to hear a call for font control!

    IANAE but my take on the matter is: Fonts when installed should *not* ALL be visible in font-choosers at once – there should be a user-controlled *filter* of what gets seen.

    That’s it really.

    I am sure the look of fonts and their freedom will improve over time as the real boffins apply their weight to the issue; but right now, we (users) need to simply control what fonts we get to work with.

    From what I gather of fontconfig it’s a kind of uber font-collector; one can scatter fonts far and wide across a system – in user and root areas – and have fontconfig gather them all up and make them available to apps higher up. So, installing (and removing) fonts need not change from the current methods of apt-get and/or plonking them into ~/.fonts.
    The problem is not fontconfig, it’s the apps up the ladder. Apps like Inkscape and the Gimp, etc. (and perhaps OOO) should use a font-manager dialogue which should *really* be built-into GTK as a standard dialogue.

    I created FP to try and impose some artificial order on the issue by allowing the user to herd (links to) fonts into and out-of their ~/.fonts folder. I have found that the app is horribly limited by font-chooser clutter — it’s still too hard to find the few fonts one intends to work with right now. (I have a lot of fonts installed you see. As do many designers.)
    My latest plan is to write some kind of ‘font zapper’ to hide fonts (by renaming them, urgh :( ) from fontconfig so that the list of available fonts is not so large. Then FP could work quite well.

    Still, FP is a kludge that relies on too many other libraries and must directly *fight* fontconfig in order to work! Also I am not able to put the time into it that I want to. (I have OTF and Type1 support in a rough state, but moving home (and building) is preventing me from concentrating). The solution should really be a C/C++ GTK font-filter dialogue. I understand KDE is getting something like this in the near future – so GTK has to catch up anyway :)

    Oh, and one last thing, here’s a link to some pretty well thought-out font-chooser ideas:
    (Although I must add that a pull-down font chooser is horrible, and a proper form with space to see and choose a font is vital.)


  28. Pascal de Bruijn says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Please don’t forget that font formats also matter.

    For example, Ubuntu now delivers a mix of TrueType and PostScript Type 1 fonts. It would be very nice to unify this in the future, to any one format.

    If we take a look on the current situation, we’ll notice that OpenType(PS) is the number one font format. I recon Ubuntu should follow this trend. Though there is one major obstable, not all applications (most notably support OpenType(PS).

    I’m advocating OpenType because it offers the glyph quality of Postscript Type 1 with the flexibility and unicode support of TrueType. Also OpenType offers many advanced features such as True Small Caps & Old Style Figures.

    When taking a look at the bigger picture, it is doable to make Ubuntu _supply_ only OpenType(PS):
    - DejaVu & Liberation can be converted to OpenType.
    - URW GS Fonts, have already been extended and professionally converted to OpenType by the TeX GyRE project.
    - Another good resource for Gratis OpenType Fonts:

    I would volunteer for a working group on this issue.

  29. Maimon Mons says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Beware font overload. Mark Shuttleworth hinted at it in this article. You have dozens of fonts installed by default with no idea what is what. How about adjusting how Gnome and KDE set up their font lists so that you have three sections: Most recently used 4-5 fonts, “suggested fonts”, and “all fonts”. The suggested fonts sections should contain the Free equivalents to Times New Roman, Ariel, Courier, etc.

    Also, I hope that in the near future the main fonts support the entire unicode set of languages, so we don’t need to install a separate font to read korean text on a french installation. (Thereby avoiding font overload.)

  30. Sergio says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Just one URL:

  31. Perry E. Metzger says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    My biggest gripe is the fact that one can rarely be sure on two different X installations that the same fonts are available. I think it is very important that a standard subset of fonts always be available.

    My second largest gripe is the fact that, in package systems like that for Ubuntu, it is rarely simple to figure out which of the possible font packages one actually wants to install and which one should ignore. It is very rare that Windows or Mac users think about what fonts they are installing at all — see point number one as well.

  32. Ulrik Sverdrup says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Great to get some focus on this!

    We need
    1. Quality over quantity, like someone said here before me. Do a proper evaluation and make sure we only ship what we need by default.
    2. Configuration for smart font replacement; Times being an alias to Liberation Serif and the like.. copying the font metrics like that is a smart way to get around it.
    3. Ship a proper font-manager, System-wide and per-user in one.

  33. BjornW says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Good to see more people getting interested in fonts. Out of curiosity: Is there any Free (in both senses of the word) font creation software available on Linux? Would be a shame if we can manage fonts but not create them…

  34. Kai Hendry says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 3:56 pm


    Thank for setting me straight on that ttf limit and the virtues of DejaVu.

    I wonder how DejaVu is treated by Firefox, CSS and the Web. Another sans-serif font? I need to investigate.

    The Web is the most important document resource guys, not OpenOffice. :)

    And Denis, what’s your email? It’s easy to find me.

  35. Pascal de Bruijn says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    @Maimon Mons:
    Unicode can actually be a problem, the Fedora folks use DejaVu LGC for that reason instead of plain DejaVu… It has something to do with Latin and Arabic text having issues in the same font.

    I recon we should probably follow Fedora’s lead with that, and supply DejaVu LGC by default, instead of DejaVu, and remove Bitstream Vera altogether, and have it aliased against DejaVu.

  36. Ubuntu Fonts.. « Ubuntu-FS says: (permalink)
    May 23rd, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    [...] Mark Shuttleworth has just wrote a new article highlighting some of the current problems with fonts in the Linux world. Head over to here if you want a read. [...]

  37. Guillermo says: (permalink)
    May 24th, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Hi everybody, I had a dream yesterday, I saw a boat with a big ubuntu logo on the spinnaker, fighting in the America’s Cup. There was a southafrican team this year and they did a fantastic job. I know that sponsoring an America’s Cup team takes a lot of money but I’ve heard that Mark earned some of that and the benefits for the ubuntu project would be awesome. It is just an idea, it was just a dream.

    PS, sorry for not talking about the fonts.

  38. koko says: (permalink)
    May 25th, 2007 at 10:50 am

    We could use Get Hot New Stuff (GHNS) data sharing concept. Specification will be hosted at and it will make installing desired fonts easier.

  39. Denis says: (permalink)
    May 27th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    @Pascal: Converting OpenType TTF fonts to OpenType CFF (PS) is a regression for screen fonts. You lose the hinting instructions. Supplying just one font format just doesn’t make sense, even commercial font designers provide more than just OpenType CFF format. OpenType TTF is the most suitable format if you want good hinting and advanced features. It is widely supported.

    @Chris: Fedora uses the autohinter whereas Ubuntu uses the font’s native hinting. The first is automatic and decent, the second is manually optimized for screens. But many “hinted” fonts have actually been generated with some automatic hinting instead of manual. So the native hint suck big time. Fontconfig allows you to choose which font you want autohinted by freetype, natively hinted or no hinting, but that’s only accessible by hacking fonts.conf, the font configuration tool only offers parts of those options.

  40. Tipografías libres en Ubuntu/Linux en Cesarius Revolutions says: (permalink)
    May 28th, 2007 at 8:34 am

    [...] Por otro lado Mark Shuttleworth reacciona al proyecto Liberation Fonts de Red Hat y las implicaciones que tendrá en Ubuntu y el mundo GNU/Linux, [...]

  41. Paul Boddie says: (permalink)
    May 28th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Marc: “Sane has a bunch of reverse-engineered scanner drivers, but they only support ancient models and skip advanced features like flim scanning.”

    This is not the complete story: a number of SANE drivers are (or were) written against manufacturer documentation, and my Epson scanner (admittedly a few years old) is one of many from that manufacturer that has full support from an open source driver. Things may have changed with regard to Epson, and there are a number of manufacturers who don’t want to give their documentation out to open source developers, but that’s a widespread problem with hardware in general, although I’d like to see that problem eliminated. Free Software (and open source) developers and users should support the vendors who play along – not the ones who make driver availability a lottery.

  42. » Blog Archive » Eye-Catcher als universelle Antwort? says: (permalink)
    May 28th, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    [...] Wenn es unter Linux etwas gibt, was abschreckt, nicht nur optisch, sondern auch qualitativ, dann ist es der Umgang mit Schriftarten und deren Einbindung in das System. Auch OpenOffice arbeitet zum Beispiel mit TrueType Fonts. Und was lesbare, skalierbare und mit Antialiasing versehene Fonts angeht, hinken Versuche wie Freetype oder Openfonts gewaltig hinterher. Alle Versuche sind nett – das Optimum an Lesbarkeit lässt sich aber nicht mit diesen Alternativen steigern, sondern wirkt immer nur wie eine Kopie. Das wird jeder merken, der die Ubuntu CD erstmal zum Ausprobieren in den PC steckt und von ihr bootet. Alles sieht durchdacht aus, aber die Schrift – ätzend.Und wenn man merkt, dass die Schriftarten unter Linux fehlen, dann ist das nur ein erster Schritt zur Verbesserung der Optik. Wohin mit den Fonts, wenn man eine Windows Lizenz hat und von dieser nur die Fonts weiter verwenden möchte? Unter Gnome gehören diese Fonts in ein verstecktes Verzeichnis unter /home/[user]/.fonts, was zum einen die Schriften nicht systemweit zur Verfügung stellt, sondern nur für diesen einen User – und wenn man zum anderen auch mal KDE laden möchte, dann kann dieser Windowmanager damit gar nichts anfangen. Und die Bindings für OpenOffice bei beiden Window-Managern parallel sind gleichbedeutend mit vorprogrammiertem Chaos.Tja und selbst dann braucht es einige Tricks, bis hin zum Ausmessen der sichtbaren Fläche des Monitors mit einem Zollstock, einer Kalkulation von Modelines, die letztendlich zu den gewünschten 92dpi Bildschirmauflösung führen. Wie das geht hatte ich mal vor einigen Monaten im Detail beschrieben. Dann aber, nach all diesen Hürden, bietet sich ein traumhaftes Bild. Ein optimal konfigurierter Linux-PC mit z.B. DejaVuSans als Standard und auf die Schrift abgestimmte Einstellungen beim Hinting und Antialiasing übertrifft meiner Meinung nach alle bisher gesehenen Darstellungen von Betriebssystemen, inklusve Mac OSX. Ernsthaft – es ist ein Unterschied wie Tag und Nacht, wenn man tagsüber auf der Arbeit vor Windows sitzt und dann zu Hause diese Schriftbild geniessen kann.Eye-Catcher sind es, die Linux nach vorne bringen, die Aufmerksamkeit erregen. Wenn also nicht nur der 3D-Desktop schon Standard ist, sondern all diese komplexen Schrifteinstellungen von Hause aus richtig vorkonfiguriert wären, dann wäre das ein wichtiger Schritt. Genau das hat auch Mark Shuttleworth erkannt und in seinem aktuellen Eintrag in seinem Weblog diese Frage aufgeworfen. Er beschreibt zusätzlich noch die Ebene der Internationalisierung von Fonts. Und seine entscheidende Frage kommt am Ende. “Who will step up?”. Das ist wieder so ein typisches Problem, dessen Lösung an der Linux-Vielfalt zu scheitern droht (wie auch die verschiedenen Varianten beim 3D-Desktop – XGL, Compiz, Beryl), wo sich jetzt erst, nach fast zwei Jahren eine Einigung abzeichnet. Er zeigt damit indirekt auf die Zerstrittenheit im Linux-Lager, wo es diejenigen gibt, denen Ubuntu schon zu populär ist, die lieber den einen Desktop als den anderen sehen wollen usw. usw. . Die Zerstrittenheit der Linux-Gemeinschaft ist schlimmer und tiefgreifender als die zwischen Windows und Mac. Als Beispiel möchte ich nur auf die Kommentare bei diesem Artikel hinweisen. Eigentlich geht es nur um eine Roadmap zu Gnome – sofort aber greifen die KDE Anhänger das Thema auf und man beschmeisst sich mit Dreck. Fachwissen und Pseudokompetenz sind spätestens nach dem dritten Kommentar nicht mehr auseinanderzuhalten. Das gilt für beide Seiten.Die Zukunft von Linux im Desktopbereich entscheidet sich an der Frage : Wer zieht wie aus der äusserst wünschenswerten Vielfalt von Linux die Geradlinigkeit zum Nutzen aller heraus? Und das es diesen definierbaren Nutzen gibt und da ein grosser Bedarf vorherrscht sieht man an der Tatsache, dass sich immer mehr Menschen für Linux interessieren.Schriftarten fallen da direkt ins Auge. Eye-Catcher und wie sie reibungslos funktionieren sind Sinnbild für die Geradlinigkeit. Vielleicht sollte eine Person wie Shuttleworth dies doch mehr in den Vordergrund stellen und seine Frage mit “I will.” beantworten – was zweifellos den nächsten Protest heraufbeschwören würde. Dasselbe wenn sich ein Linus Thorvalds entsprechend äussern würde. Wie aber sonst, könnte eine Richtung vorgegeben werden? Das muss schon ein Einzelner in die Hand nehmen. Dabei muss klar sein – Vielfalt wird auch verloren gehen. Eye-Catcher sind nämlich so individuell wie ihre Grundlage universell ist ;-) Linux und wie es sich in der Welt der IT seinen Weg bahnen wird, ist damit symptomatisch für die Entwicklung einer globalen Gesellschaft. [...]

  43. David Mackey says: (permalink)
    May 28th, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    An automatic centralized repository for Linux fonts would be nice.

  44. Alexander Trauzzi says: (permalink)
    May 31st, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    I feel totally the same.

    MIDI is another troubled area – certainly amongst others.

  45. unruled says: (permalink)
    May 31st, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    This is also a nice ‘mod’

    from hackszine: The thing about Firefox under Linux is that its form widgets look a little nasty. Thankfully, Osmo Salomaa created some nice replacement widgets that really clean up the interface

    keep up the good work Mark :)

  46. Natalian » Blog Archive » Chinese font adventures says: (permalink)
    May 31st, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    [...] I wanted to spill the discussion of fonts from Mark’s blog and share what little I know on the topic. [...]

  47. Natalian » Blog Archive » Chinese fonts says: (permalink)
    May 31st, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    [...] I wanted to spill the discussion of fonts from Mark’s blog and share what little I know on the topic. [...]

  48. Kevin Newman says: (permalink)
    June 1st, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    The technical challenges aside, how do you get experienced type designers to spend their time and expertise on developing a font that they are not going to make any money on? In software, it makes sense. You can give software away free, because it will always need to be updated and enhanced, and that can lead to a support contracts. But fonts are more like clip art, in that they will not necessarily need to be supported. They are unlike clip art in that they take a great deal more knowledge and skill to produce, so it’s not as easy as pushing out more fonts that they can sell (or give away for free?).

    I’m sold on the free software idea, but I’ll need some convincing (and an argument I can pass on to type designers) to get me to support that kind of open content.

  49. hikaricore says: (permalink)
    June 2nd, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Personally I’ve completely switched all of my *buntu systems at work and home over to the Liberation fonts. I’m loving it.

    Sadly they look like crap on the one ***dows machine I still require at the office. Guess that would be blasphemy anyway. ^_^

  50. Keerat says: (permalink)
    June 5th, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    As referenced in an above posting, the resources at are wonderful.

    I’ve found two major pitfalls with fonts and Linux (as a developer):

    1. Licensing: While just about any font you can imagine is available for download, especially those for languages in a non-latin script, like Korean, Japanese or Hebrew, they tend to have restrictive licenses associated with them. Good for individual use, but sometimes implicitly denying the right to share them (embedding in a PDF for example, or writing a server side app to render text). How well do these gel with the free/non-free/binary only concepts that we have floating around in the package management systems?

    2. Font access: While many linux systems have centralized on leveraging fontconfig for font resources, there are still alternative mechanisms to get fonts from a machine. Being able to know that the result of an “apt-get install something” really assembled everything needed to get your app to work is very comforting. Is there a similar mechanism in place that handles font installations universally? If there is, it hasn’t been centralized on effectively.

    “Anybody else frustrated with the state of fonts in Linux today?”

    Yes. And thanks raising the point.

  51. weblog » Blog Archive » links for 2007-06-07 says: (permalink)
    June 7th, 2007 at 4:25 am

    [...] Mark Shuttleworth » Font-ification Mark Shuttleworth is looking for a few good FLOSS leaders to help with improving fonts and fonts management on free platforms. (tags: fonts linux floss) [...]

  52. Zaine Ridling says: (permalink)
    June 14th, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Robert Scoble recently noted this weakness, too, and a good discussion follows:

  53. cosmix says: (permalink)
    June 18th, 2007 at 6:15 am

    While I agree on practically everything you’ve written on this post, I don’t think Ubuntu has done enough to remedy the situation. Let me explain myself: Contrary to the most other major players promoting linux in the industry, Ubuntu (and Canonical) have a vested interest to improve the situation with fonts and typography on linux, as its goal is ubiquity, a high quality linux solution for every need, not just the enterprise desktop. In this light, Ubuntu has done very little (if anything) to promote font handling, font support and font provision for the linux desktop.

    First of all, the provision of some high quality fonts (including non-roman) should become standard for all Ubuntu installations. This would create a healthy foundation for high-quality Linux typography upon which additional OFL or other free fonts can be added as they become available. Ubuntu should make it a priority to ship with quality Unicode fonts.

    High quality support for font-management (both at the development and end-user level) within the main platform environments is of critical importance: Both KDE and Gnome suffer tremendously from poor font-handling APIs and end-user utilities. Again, Ubuntu has not done much to improve this to date: I was very surprised to find out that the current version of Ubuntu (7.04) shipped with a broken pango library that mishandles ‘unconventionally’ named variants of some (typically commercial) fonts (such as Adobe’s Myriad Pro). Linux may lack the application base to support the professional needs of designers, yet, even if it did have enough applications to lure experienced amateurs or professionals away from their beloved (?) Macs and Windows machines, the fact that they wouldn’t be able to use their professional typefaces would probably be enough of a reason to keep ignoring the platform.

    The issues surrounding typography are many and I understand it will be difficult to solve straight away. Fonts are typically quite expensive and difficult to design (at least to acceptable standards) and their management depends on multiple subsystems of a system requiring proper coordination between authors of numerous libraries. Still, I believe that, contrary to Novell and Redhat (as some of the major vendors/communities supporting development of Linux solutions), Ubuntu/Canonical is in a unique position to significantly improve the situation for millions of Linux users and remove some of the main obstacles that make state of the art typography on linux highly improbable for the foreseeable future.

    In my opinion, Canonical should act in two ways: First, it should prioritise support for typography at the library level (see launchpad for the pango bug I mentioned earlier) and support the development/improvement of existing rendering libraries as well as font-management utilities that will enable world-class control of font installation, (de-)activation and use. Then it should attempt to ensure the provision of high-quality fonts for free in future Ubuntu releases. One way would probably be to actively engage with other vendors and font houses to ‘liberate’ a number of fonts (incl. some Unicode fonts) for inclusion in future Ubuntu (and other linux) distributions. Another would be to actually acquire the rights for some fonts, in the same way Apple or Microsoft have done in the past. Finally, Canonical could support the TUG DevFund in order to sponsor the design/development of new free fonts by the community.

    I’m happy that you seem to agree with me on the importance of good typography on linux and I am eager to see how future Ubuntu releases will improve upon what we’ve got today.

  54. Ray Privett says: (permalink)
    June 20th, 2007 at 2:27 am

    FreeSans, FreeSerif, and FreeMono are similar and, to my mind, better. However, the licensing seems a bit complicated. Unlike the Liberation fonts, these might be licensed without an exception, so that any document you write with them becomes GPL.

    I have been trying to sort this out by analyzing these pages, but am unsure about the status.

    To me, these are much more elegant than the Liberation fonts. However, the licensing issue is a big deal.

  55. Ray Privett says: (permalink)
    June 20th, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    Wow, that was fast.

    A message from the Free Software Foundation is below.

    FreeSans, FreeSerif, FreeMono have the same font exception as the Liberation fonts.


    Dear Ray,

    Thank you for your question about the Free UCS Outline Fonts.

    These fonts are licensed with the font exception, and so you are not
    required to GPL your document merely because it uses these fonts.

    The exact terms for these fonts are available in the README file which
    is distributed with the font files; I checked against
    but any release of these fonts since about 2002 should contain the same



  56. says: (permalink)
    June 30th, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Mark Shuttleworth habla del estado de los fonts en linux…

    Mark Shuttleworth habla de las fonts en linux, licencias, problemas y demás…

  57. John Drinkwater says: (permalink)
    July 9th, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Have you bumped into this article on Windows, Mac, & Linux font rasterisation yet?

  58. Greg says: (permalink)
    August 1st, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    John Drinkwater:

    Thanks for the link to the font article on antigrain. Some really wonderful stuff in there. One thing I noticed that he did not address perhaps due to just unfamiliarity with the latest freetype advances:

    As is often the case in free software projects, it seems patents, politics, and organization issues are involved. Getting top notch LCD filtering, auto-kerning, and fonts with proper (ie MS web fonts) metrics into the various libs/distros is very difficult. The new Liberation fonts from redhat/ascender are a step in getting proper metrics in fonts. More work is needed to get them properly hinted (they look decent with the autohinter).

    Oh and another link:

    Deals with getting the good filtering into feisty.

  59. Endolith says: (permalink)
    August 18th, 2007 at 6:07 am

    During your reorganization, don’t forget about GNOME’s meaningless font sizes:

  60. Henry Hollenberg says: (permalink)
    October 2nd, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Nice Article. I have been working thru an ubuntu/OpenOffice font issue with several hundred documents my wife has created in OpenOffice 1.0.3 that are now
    “broken” due to missing fonts and layout issues in Ubuntu 7.04 / OpenOffice 2.2. I am working through these issues with Canonical (Ubuntu) support. From
    a users perspective what I would like to see is a HOWTO that explains “how to” not get snake bit. Most of the tutorials I have run across are geared toward installing
    and using lots and lots of fonts or various licensing. How about just one. One with very specific criteria:

    1) Free/OpenSource.
    2) High Quality-Proportional/Outline fonts that work well with: X, PS, PDF, Gnome, KDE, Mozilla, OpenOffice and mainline (PS) printers.
    3) Finally, and probably most important, fonts that are guaranteed by OpenOffice/Ubuntu/Linux/OpenSource to be:
    a) available
    b) installed
    c) seamless/transparent (mainline apps above know about them) to the user FOREVER!

    Note the Forever part. I assumed this would already be covered with all the articles I read about OpenOffice being
    adopted by goverment offices of various nations for official documents. It would seem to me to be important that
    these documents be “rendered” on screen or paper the same way they were created over long periods of time, ie
    10′s to 100′s of years. Pulling up a set of documents that you put alot of work into several years back using the same
    word processor just to find they have been electronically scrambled is MADDENING!

    So a list of “SAFE” fonts or “GUARANTEED” fonts would that meet the above criteria would be one feature I would be
    keenly interested in as a user. If you stick to these fonts your documents would have a degree of “immortality”. If you
    stray off this beaten path into the “font forrest”, let the buyer beware! If you are not creating a disposable document you
    may be very unhappy with the results. If not today, certainly down the road when you need to quickly print a few 100
    flyers, forms, posters…..for that rally, club meeting or business proposal.

    Personally I would be quite pleased with any such list and an explanation of it’s use even if it contained only a single font.
    Of course we could always add another once we got the first one right.

    just my 2 cents. Henry Hollenberg

  61. Stu M. says: (permalink)
    October 18th, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    I have a question.
    Why are fonts so damn hard to install in Ubuntu?
    Even when logged in as root, it is the system will not let one cut and paste files into the fonts folder! This seems really silly and somewhat corrupt, as the whole point of linux is to be able to do whatever one wants with it. It seems rather strange that one cannot directly modify the fonts folder without running a bunch of obscure commands in the terminal. This is silly. The average user is not going to want to do that! I am an art student. I am not a left-brained person who takes to writing command line code. I like a visual interface because I am a visual person. I need more fonts for the work I do, but cannot install them as of yet, because my sytem won’t let me paste them into the folder!!! This is infuriating! It’s MY computer! Why should I not be able to mess with it as a Root User?? I have some good fonts to install too!!!
    Anybody know of a SIMPLE solution to this (like disabling the “safety” feature)?
    Thanks in advance!

  62. Suchawato says: (permalink)
    October 29th, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    The funfonts pack is nice.
    I use those all the time.
    It’s got a lot of neat fonts for all kinds of uses.
    I did have to do some looking to find this pack though, it would be nice if it were easier to locate, and install in various distro’s.
    Maybe a website that included a section for linux-able fonts that were not necessarily available under the GPL but were an option non-theless.
    this could be an easy source site for distro vendors to get the up-to-date font information for their distro.
    The main question I have is why these aren’t available as part of Open Office? It seems a little odd to me that there wouldn’t be an easy link/feature/part-of-the-package option as a standard feature. As Mark said, the standard fonts are not really all that impressive.
    As far as Ubuntu is concerned, I suppose a step in the direction of ease of use would be to make packages like Funfonts available in the repositories.

  63. O Ubuntu e as Fonts uma nova saga se inicía. | Governança & Tecnologia says: (permalink)
    January 14th, 2008 at 2:38 am

    [...] o próprio Shutleworth em pessoa publicou em seu blog um artigo destacando os problemas que enfrentamos com o gerenciamento de fonts nos sistemas GNU/Linux atuais [...]

  64. Want better fonts in Ubuntu or Linux Mint? (or any Linux distro for that matter) | Welcome to says: (permalink)
    December 1st, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    [...] One area where Linux consistently lags behind Windows and Mac OS (in my opinion) is in fonts. The fonts included with Ubuntu and Linux Mint, for example, are nowhere near as pretty as the Windows Vista / Windows 7 fonts. Point Counter-point [...]